Saturday, February 02, 2008

An Historic Weekend in Israeli Sports

It was a week in Israeli sports that began like many others. Maccabi Tel Aviv won a EuroLeague game at Nokia Arena and looks to be on its way to a top seed in the round of 16. Half a world away, the pride of Israeli tennis, ShaharPe'er had crashed out of the Australian Open singles competition. But this was the calm before the proverbial storm as Saturday dawned bright around the globe.

The appetizer was a sparkling performance by multi-talented striker Yossi Benayoun in a game that reminded everyone exactly why the FA Cup is still a beloved tournament. In a game that saw a team of part-timers composed of bricklayers, taxi drivers and truant officers take twice take leads over Liverpool at Anfield, it took a hat trick by Benayoun to save the Premier League side's reputation, not to mention its place in the fifth round.

In a normal weekend, that would have been the highlight, however, more was to come from Down Under. The aforesaid Pe'er redeemed herself in doubles, making it to the finals, with her Belorussian partner Victoria Azarenka before falling to Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko 6-2, 1-6, 4-6.

The best was yet to come however. Israeli doubles team Andy Ram and Yoni Ehrlich met French doubles team Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement in the men's doubles final. The Israelis won 7-5, 7-6 completing a run through the doubles bracket in which they did not drop a set, and becoming the first Israeli team to win a Grand Slam event. The pair played before a raucous crowd of Israeli supporters, replete with, and I'm quoting here, "cries of war and shouts to attack the French from the start."

It will be tennis mania in Israel this week as the conquering Aussie Open heroes arrive home accompanied by Maria Sharapova, the Australian Open Women's Singles winner, who is coming to join her Russian Fed Cup teammates ahead of this weekend's match with Israel. Shahar Pe'er will open play with a singles match against Sharapova. I doubt that Israeli tennis has ever had a more eventful eight days.

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